ORLANDO, Fla. – Roger Goodell has entered the Shark Tank.
So has Jerry Jones.
Mark Cuban's apocalyptic comments predicting implosion for the NFL within a decade made him the talk of the owners meetings here Monday, even though Cuban is not an owner of an NFL team.
The Dallas Mavericks owner got a lot of people buzzing when he said over the weekend that the NFL's push into playing games Thursdays, Saturdays and perhaps another weekday will result in fan ennui or even revolt.
"I think the NFL is 10 years away from an implosion," Cuban said Sunday evening. "I'm just telling you: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they're getting hoggy. Just watch. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I'm just telling you, when you've got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That's rule No. 1 of business."
Cuban, who is the star of the reality show "Shark Tank," received some blowback from fellow Dallas billionaire Jerry Jones on Monday.
"I respect Mark,'' the Cowboys owner told the Dallas Morning News. "But with all due respect, I know more about pigs than Mark does. I was taught as a Razorback to be lean and mean, not a little fat pig."
Goodell, asked about Cuban's comments at Monday's media conference here, said he wasn't aware of them. He responded anyway.
"Monday Night Football has been around since 1970," Goodell said. "Sunday Night Football has been around since 2006 and so has Thursday Night Football. We've taken, I think in a very incremental and thoughtful approach, how we've taken more games to a national platform. That's been in a large part driven by our fans. The fans want those games."
It's hard to argue against Goodell's point. There seems to be no end to the demand for the NFL. What was once confined largely to 16 weekends, a few weeks of playoffs and the draft is now a year-round drama with its own network. Although there are issues about keeping stadiums filled, those concerns are nothing compared to other pro leagues, including the NBA.
Cuban pointed to "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" the wildly popular show that spiraled after it expanded. That's a strong point, but there's a huge difference: A major part of the insatiable demand for the NFL comes from the millions of non-rich football owners around the world: fantasy football owners. They keep feeding the engine that drives interest in not only stars and top franchises, but middling players in smaller markets. Even if you don't care about the Saints or Eagles, you probably care a lot about running back Darren Sproles joining a fast-paced offense in Philadelphia. Although the NBA has fantasy basketball, it's nothing like what the NFL has.
"I think this is very thoughtful, strategic, and frankly, it's a response to the fans," Goodell said. "That's what we're interested in. We're focusing our strategy and our fans and how we serve them better."
Cuban shouldn't be dismissed. His business acumen is unquestioned. So is his constant attention to what consumers want. His point becomes more credible when the most popular sports of the last century are considered. They included horse racing, boxing and baseball. None of those sports are the most popular now.
That's why Jones was more playful than dismissive of Cuban.
"I agree with him and run scared," Jones said. "Any time you're having success, then it's a fool who's not aware that that could change. I'm proud of the success we're having and want to continue at the league and franchise level to improve and have a better product for our fans. If we can do that, then we can maintain our relevance."
The expansion that might imperil the NFL might not be weekday expansion, but franchise expansion. As the recent history of the NHL shows, adding more teams dilutes the product. Boring football is almost as unwatchable as boring basketball. Just look at the December college bowl game rotation for proof.
As for now, though, that's not a problem at the pro level. Scoring in the NFL is up without ruining the chances of the league's top defensive teams, who consistently make the playoffs. The concussion issue is terribly frightening and serious, but (perhaps disturbingly) the popularity of the sport hasn't been lessened. That may change as we see more of the effects of years of hitting. At this point, though, the NFL seems to be at the peak of its power.
The only problem with that is what usually comes after a peak.